Another went for my right foot. I sprang away just in time, missing its bite, only to have a third snake aim for my left foot. It also missed.

I crossed the kitchen that way, jackrabbiting over the floor. At one point I stepped on a snake when I landed. A baby. Its body wriggling sickeningly against the bottom of my foot.

Then I was at the steps, on my way up at the same moment Jess and Maggie were coming down. They’d heard my screams and came running.

I wished they hadn’t.

Because it meant that they, too, caught a glimpse of the horror in the kitchen.

Maggie screamed when she saw the snakes, making sounds similar to my own. Jess let out a horrified gurgle. I thought she was going to be sick, so I took her arm and dragged her up the stairs before she had the chance. I used my other hand to grab Maggie, who’d been standing a few steps behind her.

Together, we climbed the steps and ran through the dining room. Jess and Maggie waited on the front porch while I went to the master bedroom to fetch my keys, wallet, and a pair of sneakers.

Then the three of us fled the house, not knowing where we were going but knowing we couldn’t stay inside.

Two weeks later, we did the same thing.

That time, though, we didn’t return.


It’s the dead of night and I’m in bed, not quite asleep but not quite awake.

My father had a phrase for that.

In the gray.

That netherworld between deep sleep and full wakefulness.

So I’m in the gray.

Or at least I think I am.

I might be dreaming, because in that fuzzy grayness I hear the armoire doors crack open.

I open my eyes, lift my head from the pillow, look to the armoire towering against the wall opposite the bed.

The doors are indeed open. Just an inch. A dark slit through which I can see into the armoire itself.

Inside is a man.


Eyes unblinking.

Lips flat.

Mister Shadow.

This isn’t real. I repeat it in my head like a chant. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.

But Mister Shadow is still there, lurking inside. Not moving. Just staring.

Then the armoire doors open and he’s suddenly by the bed, leaning over me, gripping my arms and hissing, “You’re going to die here.”

My eyes snap open—for real this time. I sit up in bed, a terrified yelp leaping from my throat. I cast a panicked glance toward the armoire. Its doors are shut. There’s no Mister Shadow. It was all just a dream.

No, not a dream.

A night terror.

One that stays with me as I get out of bed and tiptoe to the armoire. Even though I know I’m being paranoid and ridiculous, I press my ear to one of the doors, listening for a hint of noise from within.

There’s nothing inside.

I know that.

To think otherwise would make me just as gullible as Wendy Davenport and any of the other people who believe the Book.

Yet fear tightens my chest as I tug the doors open just a crack. I tell myself it’s vigilance that makes me peer inside. Someone broke into the house last night, and it makes sense to make sure whoever it was hasn’t come back.

But I know the score.

I’m looking for Mister Shadow.

Inside the armoire, I see nothing but the dresses that still hang there, draped in darkness. They brighten once I throw the doors completely open, allowing them to be hit with the gray light coming through the bedroom windows.

The armoire is empty. Of course it is.

Even so, the nightmare lingers. Enough for me to decide to start my day, even though it’s barely dawn. In the shower, each groan of the creaky pipes seems to signal Mister Shadow’s approach. Every time I close my eyes against the spray of water, I expect to open them and find him here.

What bothers me so much about the nightmare is that it didn’t seem like one. It had the feel of something experienced. Something real.

A memory.

Just like the one I had of me and my father painting in the kitchen.

But it can’t be.

I can’t remember something that never happened.

Which means it’s the Book I’m remembering. A sound theory, if my father hadn’t written it in first person. The reader sees everything only through his eyes, and I’ve read House of Horrors too many times to know my father never wrote such a scene.

I survive the shower unscathed, of course, and make my way downstairs. The slip of paper is still jammed in the front door. It’s the same with all the windows.

Nothing has been disturbed.

I’m all alone.

No one here but us chickens.

When Dane arrives at eight, I’m already on my third cup of coffee and twitchy from the caffeine. And suspicious. Deep down, I know Dane had no role in last night’s events. Yet seeing him enter Baneberry Hall without my having unlocked the gate or the front door reminds me of the section of missing wall and the cottage just beyond it. There’s also the record player to consider. No one else knew we had found it yesterday. Only me and Dane, who insisted on dragging it to the desk.

“Which cottage is yours?” I ask him. “The yellow one or the brown one?”


Which means the one I saw last night belongs to the Ditmers. Dane’s sits on the other side of the road.

“Now I have a question,” he says, eyeing the coffee mug in my hand. “Is there more of that, and can I have it?”